skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [3 November 1869]1

6 Queen Anne St

My dear Lyell

Very many thanks for your long & interesting letter,—the latter part of which perplexed me not a little till I received the missing sheet.—2 You give me some consolation, but I take the Sun much to heart. I have comforted myself partly in the way which you suggest by our ignorance of the Universe, & by reflecting how little we know of the cause of the incandescent masses of vapour forming comets,—by the sudden blazing up of variable stars—extra planetary meteors &c.—3

With respect to long endurance of our existing continents, I formed my opinion chiefly from facts of geographical distribution, to which I allude in Origin—& partly from views given under Coral Reefs.—4 I quite subscribe to what you say about denudation & from something I somewhere read or heard (perhaps from you) had come to conclusion that there was much grinding up of matter brought down to lower level; but this wd not much affect, I suppose, some of the Scotch streams, the carrying work of which I think has been measured.5

I am tired with my morning’s work in Brit. Museum—so no more.—6

Ever yours | C. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Charles Lyell, 2 November 1869, and by the date of CD’s visit to the British Museum (see n. 6, below).
The missing sheet of the letter from Charles Lyell, 2 November 1869, has not been found.
For CD’s allusion to the endurance of continents in Origin, see the letter from Charles Lyell, 2 November 1869 and n. 8. In Coral reefs, CD argued that reefs formed as the immense area (or continent) on which they were built subsided over a long period of time; see Coral reefs, pp. 142–4, and Herbert 2005, pp. 242–3.
Lyell may have discussed subaerial denudation in Scotland in the missing portion of his letter of 2 November 1869.
CD visited the British Museum on 3 November 1869; there is a dated note made on his visit in DAR 85: A71.


Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Herbert, Sandra. 2005. Charles Darwin, geologist. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Takes "much to heart" solar evidence for short age of the earth. Cites evidence for "long endurance of our existing continents". Comments on process of denudation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 6
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.346)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5974,” accessed on 9 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17